THE ARMY OF DESPAIR
(ARTICLE NO. 3.)
BY FRED ISLER, TEAMSTER, CHICAGO.
‘How are things coming along, John’
‘Pretty rotten, Tom; my feet are sore, am dead tired and can hardly stand. I walked at least ten miles, hit about forty houses, was turned down a good many times, but finally succeeded in getting a couple of hand-outs and a sit down. This is a dog’s life.”
”You was lucky, John; I was out all day, had to dodge the cop part of the time, my feet are soaking wet. And after rustling like the devil, got two miserly sandwiches. Gee! but I am hungry. I could chew my belt and digest the soles of my brogans. By the way, is there something openin’ up? Do you think there’s a chance for a job somewhere’
”’Hell, no, Tom; jobs are about as scarce as hen’s teeth in a straw stack. Nothin doin’ along that line. The devil only knows when we’ll get our next chance at a job.’
This life is not what it is cracked up to be. Sometimes I think we are better dead than alive. This humming business is the limit. Oh, if I could only get a job
The speakers were typical representatives of the men thrown out of work by the shutting down of industry. Never before in the history of their lives had they to stoop so low as to have to depend upon hand-outs for an existence. Conditions not of their making forced them into the ranks of THE ARMY OF DESPAIR. Think of it! Here are two men, one a husky laborer, the other a skillful machinist, able and willing to work for a living, and Society says, ”Scratch an existence in any other way but work. Beg, but if the arm of the law catches you, to jail you go.’ What an anaehronism And they are not alone by any means. In this city of opulence and wealth, thousands in the same fix have no other means of sub. sistence but to walk from house to house, knock at the back door and say, ”Lady, please give me something to eat.’
Day after day they make the weary round and their leaky shoes show it. At the beginning, it is hard for a man to beg for food. It hurts his feelings, he feels embarassed, but the incessant calls from his stomach force him to it. After a while he becomes so accustomed to it that he acts like an automaton and keeps on repeating the ‘Please give me.יי
In the winter time, strange to state, but a heavy fall of snow is welcoined by those men. In it they see the prospects of getting a few cents and a meal or two for cleaning the sidewalks of the well-to-do. Early in the morning they start, poorly equipped to face the weather and wearing shoes that long ago have ceased to afford protection to their feet. All day long they tramp from place to place and pitifully ask the lady of the house for a chance at the snow. In the evening, back to the ‘flop’ again. Some of the lucky ones have a few dimes to show for their labor. The unlucky ones have nothing else to show for their trou ble but wet feet and a stomach crying for food.
During their peregrinations, they meet with many rebuffs, and their experiences are varied. Sometimes the houteskeeper, getting tired of being disturbed, administers a scolding to the unifortunate and advises him, none too gently, to go to work. On the irony of it. Telling a man, who probably chased after a job for many weeks to go to work is almost barbarous. Sometimes tender-hearted women invite them into the house and place a good meal before them. However, the large majority of the women do not like the idea of having a homeless man enter the premises and send him away with a few sandwiches wrapped up in a paperbag-a hand-out.
It would be untrue to deny that a certain percentage of the men who exist in such a manner are bums and absolutely refuse to work. However, more than 80 per cent will work if given an opportunity. Moreover, they would gladly give up bumming, and only be too anxious to perform some useful labor in exchange for a living. And those who will tell you the contrary are few and far between Yet, they belong to the Army of Despair. WHY?
Note: This is the third of a series of articles on the bo’s city life. Keep this story till you get them complete.